Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki – Google Cultural Institute
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki opened its doors on 17 February 1888 and is the oldest purpose-built art gallery in New Zealand. The founding gifts of Sir George Grey and James Tannock Mackelvie were instrumental in the Gallery’s establishment and these public-spirited gestures heralded a culture of patronage by generous individuals.
Several major gifts were received from the early 1900s onward. Chief among these were 72 paintings by Gottfried Lindauer which depict Māori. Henry Partridge commissioned Lindauer to produce a pictorial account of the Māori people. The Partridge Collection is the most significant collection of indigenous portraiture in Australasia. Rarely has a gift been so finely calculated in its wider cultural and philanthropic effect.
The Gallery effectively entered the modern era in 1953 with the arrival of its first professional director, Eric Westbrook, a specialist art historian. Beginning at this time, a plethora of social and educational events in support of the Gallery were organised by the Art Gallery Associates. Now the Friends of the Gallery, this group gives invaluable support, particularly for acquisitions. Westbrook persuaded the Auckland City Council to provide annual funds for acquisitions, which they have continued to do ever since. Led by Westbrook the institution became increasingly confident and adopted an ordered approach to the development of its collections and their exhibition and interpretation.
Peter Tomory, Assistant Regional Director for the Arts Council of Great Britain, was appointed to the Gallery in 1956. Tomory’s task was one of consolidation, his aim to ‘establish a high professional status not only for the Gallery but also for its staff’. He built up a collection of modern French sculpture, increased the purchase and exhibition of New Zealand art, both historical and contemporary, expanded the Gallery’s Research Library and initiated the publication of the Art Gallery Quarterly, a review of acquisitions which was published until 1978.
Tomory achieved local notoriety – and huge audiences for the Gallery – by bringing an exhibition of Henry Moore sculpture to Auckland in 1956; and international acclaim for his discovery in Dunedin of an outstanding group of 37 drawings by Henry Fuseli. Purchased for the Gallery, the collection includes drawings from most decades of the artist’s œuvre and from almost all his subjects – the Bible, ancient history, classical mythology, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton and Dante.
Westbrook and Tomory established a focus on the New Zealand collection which all subsequent directors have emulated. The Gallery is now home to an extensive collection of international and New Zealand artworks numbering close to 15,000.
With the rapid growth of the Gallery’s collection, the historic building has undergone a succession of extensions and alterations. The most recent redevelopment opened to the public in September 2011. This ambitious building project restored and preserved the building’s iconic heritage fabric while adding large contemporary exhibition spaces, extensive glazing and new outdoor sculpture terraces. The redeveloped Gallery is at the centre of a city whose energy and enthusiasm for the arts continues to grow.